The Waitress and the Werewolf
by Iris Adams
Mia walked soberly across scraggly yellow grass, scraping the bottom of her feet and making a sharp crunching sound with each step- like someone chewing on granola cereal.
The early morning smelled of dry earth and a colorless warm breeze. The faint wind itself granted no relief for Mia’s prickling skin, a touch like lukewarm milk being poured over sunburns. Everything always burned the morning after, itching like she was swallowing Pop Rocks in her entire body.
Her vision was boneless and strange, senses coming back to Mia in a fuddled mix of colors and sounds. The reds and greens returned in a slow bloody dawn, her nerves lit up one by one from the depths of numbness, and the scents of the world slowly dried up and left her. The sharpest feeling of all though, was the hunger.
The hunger was inevitable. Perfectly ruthless and all-consuming, distracting her from any thoughts of exhaustion or a shower with soap. Ache gnawed at her insides and rumbled with the force of thunder and stampedes.
Mia pushed forward.
The sun was just a suggestion on the horizon, the faintest brushes of light across the treetops. The trees were thin and closely knit together; their eyes seem to watch her warily, perhaps they had tolerated the wolf, but her human feet were not welcome.
She staggered away from them through a dried field, dark, bleak, and wrung out, her eyes trained on the only light in the whole unfriendly area: a yellow neon sign. It blared in the distance, the color of American cheese that was 50% chemicals and the teeth of evil witches in fairy tales.
The eerie neon reminded her of some desolate cyberpunk world that existed exclusively around a single diner in the middle of nowhere. Mia followed the sign like a beacon to wise men looking for saviors or very drunk men seeking toilets.
An empty road sat next to it, a strip of quiet grey with a faded line in the center and a promise of miles of the same.
When a young woman comes lumbering out of the forest with twigs in her hair, bare skin, and moonlight to her back, poets might write romantic lyrics about the glory of innocent womanhood and nature. Or something. The dried blood and mud coating her skin probably ruined the effect.
Mia had tried to clean herself up as best she could. She scrubbed her face, secured her ragged pants and scraps of shirt, located her wallet still tucked deep in her pockets, and wiped her hands down. She became as person passing as she was going to get that night.
The light of the sign drew closer and closer, Mia steadied herself, her system flooded with thoughts of "hungry" and "aaaaaagh." She was used to both feelings.
Mia faltered into the lit parking lot, crossing the boundary between the world of poets and broken brittle grass and into the glow of a squat, long building. It had giant glass windows peering in at a spotless long counter with fixed stools and overstuffed napkin holders. Red shiny booths sat along the walls, their material sparkly and no doubt squeaky when you sat. Black and white photos cluttered the walls, depicting smiling pictures of famous people in the genre of Marilyn Monroe and Elvis Presley.
The whole place was a clear imitation of classic diners that the 1950’s would have spit out by the dozen.
It was empty at this time except for a single man with a knit cap, slumped back, and wearing a pair of sagging pants that could only be described as “doing their best.” Mia assumed he was a late-night trucker drinking coffee and forgetting the world. The restaurant was bright, alien, and a little cheap looking.
Mia didn’t care how it looked. It was roughly five in the morning and this was the only thing open, the only option really. She tucked her head down and steeled her nerves, hyper aware of her dirty bare feet and the fact she looked like she wrestled the sludge-monster from a Ghibli film to get here.
Her stomach complained again, noisy as a garbage disposal, the transformation took more calories than she liked to count. Bodies demanded payment for their fancy parlor tricks.
Mia took a deep breath, looked down at herself, cringed, and then pushed the door open. A bell dinged gently, and she blinked into the blaring white fluorescent lights. She shuffled inside, feeling the cool tiles against her toes and whole body shrinking down. The room smelled of grease and black coffee, faint bleach and the slightest hint of perfume. The perfume reminded her of sunscreen and sugar.
There was a simple kiosk by the door that Mia approached cautiously, a woman stood there with her back turned. She wore a blue collared shirt, fitted jeans, and a red company apron tied around her waist.
“Booth for one,” Mia said automatically, quick and as pleasant as she could.
The waitress turned.
The young woman had exceptionally wide eyes, owl-like and appearing prone to looks such as shock or confusion. Her cheeks were delicate, chin softly rounded, and fine mouth smeared with splotchy lip-gloss. Long copper hair piled high on her head and freckles speckled across every piece of vacant skin.
She caught sight of Mia and made a face at her that could be summarized as “an atheist meeting God and being deeply unimpressed.”
Mia sighed internally; it might be a long few months in Nolan, West Virginia.
≿————- ❈ ————-≾
Lionel was counting down the minutes until the end of her shift, which was unfortunate for her since it began at five am and ended in eight hours and twenty-eight minutes. She usually tried to avoid counting the time until at least five hours in, but sometimes she indulged herself.
The counting did not in fact improve the work experience, but it did manage to amplify her sheer awareness of time itself and the idea she might be stuck in endless loops. Loop after loop of similar faces, usual complaints, and aching feet.
Lionel was waiting for one minute to pass, and then the next, and the next, but they never really seemed to.
The first two hours of a morning shift were the worst, slow, boring, and the chef was often taking a nap in the back. The late-night truckers didn’t even compliment her eye makeup or try to find out her phone number, home address, social security number, and whether she had a boyfriend or not- and if he was big. Though the last part was a perk.
It was the hour for nobodies, people questioning their own place in time and losing their identity to “five am.” Five am wasn’t a time, it was a place, and they were all one person there, similarly weary, adrift, and waiting for the second hand on the clock to tick forward.
Lionel was listening for the chef turning up his podcast from the back, she hoped to God it wasn’t the one she thought it was. But there was a lot of weird noises going on.
She had 8 hours twenty-four minutes left.
The door chimed, bell echoing dimly. “Booth for one.”
Lionel whipped around, preparing herself for at least a little activity and something to keep her busy. And then she stopped, paused, and held herself very still.
She couldn’t stop herself from wrinkling her nose, the monthly weirdos were appearing. The scent of fresh dirt filled the entrance, mud and something distinctly visceral, heady.
A girl looked back at her through short scattered bangs, she had a small mouth and dark olive eyes, meeting Lionel’s gaze with a certain firmness there. Lionel fumbled for her first words.
“Booth for one.” The girl might have said that before, but she repeated it now.
Lionel had a decision to make, and she had to make it quick. She was technically the manager on duty since it was just her and the chef right then, but this felt like something for more of a manager-manager, an adultier-adult.
Lionel cleared her throat and the girl’s eyes darkened, worry lies permeating her sharp face. She pointed down at her tattered clothes, they were streaked in fresh earth and had long tears along the pants cuffs and shirt sleeves. It looked like a war movie where they forgot to add the rest of the set around the actress.
“Construction.” The girl said weakly, pointing down at her neo-grunge appearance. “Hope you all don’t mind.”
Lionel pondered on that for a second longer, it was hard to believe. But who hasn’t walked into an establishment completely wrecked and looking for a little bacon? Lionel didn’t have time to judge strangers, she still had twenty minutes left in that hour. She made a snap decision.
“This way,” she turned, spreading a practiced smile across her face like buttering a piece of toast. “Tough morning?”
The girl shrugged, “just a bit of a mishap.” Her eyes darted around, “boss gave me the day off after.”
Lionel opened her mouth to ask why she didn’t just go home, but it felt a little cruel to poke at her lie.
“Well,” she seated the girl at one of the middle booths, one someone couldn’t see from the front door. “I’ll be your server today.” Lionel placed a menu in front of her and nodded down pleasantly. “Welcome to Millie’s Diner.”
“Thanks,” the girl squinted at Lionel’s name tag, “Xena?” Lionel forgot she was wearing one of the other waitress’s name tags, a pastime of sorts. “Like the warrior princess?”
Lionel chuckled, touching her hair absently, “Yeah. Exactly like the warrior princess.”
The girl’s face lit up for the first time, breaking into something bright and open. “Cool.”
“This job is just my side hustle of course,” she said blithely, “warrior princess gigs don’t pay the bills.”
“Naturally,” the girl straightened up in place, a little more life returning to her movements.
“Speaking of which,” Lionel flicked her notepad open, “can I get you started with some coffee? Juice?”
She shook her head, “just some water.” She went back to mumbling, “and some fried eggs and toast to start with.”
“Sounds good,” Lionel started writing.
“Stack of pancakes, do you have those flavored syrup?”
“Yeah, blueberry, strawberry, peach,” she kept writing.
“Strawberry then. A plate of bacon, two sausage links, and a, uh, hmm, okay, also a rocky mountain omelet and breakfast burrito. Extra sour cream.”
Lionel blinked a couple times, “should I expect anyone else to be joining you?” She asked without missing a beat.
The girl shook her head sheepishly, “nope. Just me.”
Lionel looked down at her notes, a silence stretched out a little longer than necessary. “No problem. Yeah.”
“Well,” Lionel stuffed her pencil back into her apron, “let me put that in for you.” She turned toward the back to prompt Mike to heat up the grill, they were apparently feeding at least three people in one.
Lionel slipped away, putting the order in and then watching the strange girl from afar. She was barefoot. She was as muddy as a dust bowl.
When Lionel brought her food over she descended on her breakfast with the fury of a small tractor flattening a field. Lionel surveyed the scene mildly, picking up the empty plates one by one- discarded corpses on a battlefield.
“Are you from around here?” Lionel asked casually as she picked up the third empty plate.
The girl’s eyes rose carefully, she shook her head, “just passing through.”
Lionel smiled, “where are you headed?”
She shrugged, “I’ll be here for a few months.” She said instead, “and then, um, new construction site after.”
She cocked her head to the side, “sounds like an interesting life.”
“It’s a life.” The girl smiled slowly, “I don’t suppose you’re from around here, warrior princess?”
Lionel’s expression tightened, “trying not to be.”
She wasn’t sure why she said something so telling, but it was five am. The sun was barely bleaching the land and everything tasting of faded colors and forgotten things, maybe they were all the same person at that hour- all trying to be from somewhere else right then.
The dirty stranger ate enough for a small army, paid, and disappeared without another word. She tipped 26% on her card and wrote a small note on the receipt: fight some monsters for me, yeah?
There was a sword drawn next to it, and the doodle of a freckly girl with a crown.
≿————- ❈ ————-≾
Lionel was snapping her mint gum, popping it and then blowing it out as far as she could again. She popped her gum in the same way people shot paint balls after their parent’s divorce, fast, and with a grudge. Something grated just under the surface of her thoughts, digging it's nails in and beckoning with the sweetest fingertips. Just one last one, it said, that’s always the best one.
She popped her gum again.
Lionel had told her mom she could quit anytime she wanted to, but it turned out that addictive smoke filled with chemicals was very much addictive. She tried not to think about taking a cigarette break.
She leaned against the counter and eavesdropped on the cook’s latest podcast; thank the lord he had switched to true crime dramas. Even if they kept making her glance at the windows and think about bolting them shut.
“Alright, this is an interesting case Alice.” Lionel listened with half an ear, “it’s about a woman who swears a mountain lion-man broke into her condo and stole fifty thousand dollars. Can you believe?”
The other podcaster made appropriate sounds of alarm.
“She wasn’t even supposed to be home that night, but she walked into her living room only find what she calls a monster. She saw some yellow eyes in the dark, just eyes, and then teeth wi-"
Lionel jumped violently when the diner door chimed, startling her out of her contemplation of smoke and eyes in the dark. She looked up jerkily. A hunched, very muddy person stood in the doorway. Her short dusty brown hair was flattened in all directions and eyes downcast.
Lionel’s eyebrows shot into the air, “the dirty girl.”
Her eyes snapped up and Lionel covered her mouth quickly. The girl’s shoulders slumped wearily, “I usually prefer Mia.” She rasped dryly, “But I suppose I’m flexible.”
Lionel hurried over to the kiosk with the menu’s; the stranger, Mia, was the first customer of Lionel’s shift that day. She stopped in place, opened her mouth, and then closed it again
Lionel straightened up, “Sorry.” She presented her best service-smile, “How are you doing today?” It seemed like a non-question, empty even, but Mia didn't seem bothered.
She gave a slim smile, “hungry.”
“I can help with that,” Lionel turned on her heels, “Same booth?”
Mia lifted her head, “You remember,” she squinted at Lionel’s nametag, “Hannah?” Her head tilted to the side, “Hannah today?”
Lionel shrugged, “Hannah today.” Mia followed her to the booth.
“I’ll be your server this morning,” she said slowly, “did you want to start off with anything to drink?”
Mia smiled slowly, “water.” She said hoarsely, “more than one glass if possible.”
Lionel nodded briefly and then looked closely at the stranger, “Are…” She frowned slightly, “are you alright?”
Mia looked up at her, something bruised and strange under her expression, “nothing some pancakes can’t fix.” She said easily, “and maybe a name change I suppose, but you seem to have that covered.”
Lionel shrugged, “a girl needs a little variety.”
“I see,” Mia threaded a hand through her stray hairs, “Hannah and Xena though, claiming all the good ones. What does that leave me with?”
Lionel straightened up, “a girl who could use some eggs.”
“Yes,” she grinned, “very good. Though a bit of a mouthful, what about Gabrielle? Or Lucy. Short for Lucifer," she chuckled to herself, "now there’s some variety.”
What a strange person, Lionel noted, but she worked at a 24-hour diner close to a highway, she was well aware the world was filled with strange people.
“Even Lucifer needs water.” She said and turned, “I’ll be right back.”
Lionel filled up two glasses of water in the kitchen. The cook was still in the middle of his podcast, but he looked up to examine Mia through his kitchen window. “Wait,” Mike squinted, “is that the one that ordered all that food a month ago?” He frowned, “she smelled bad then too.”
Lionel rolled her eyes, “this one doesn't smell that bad. Maybe you’re thinking of that egg lady from two months ago, remember? That woman with all those rotten eggs in her purse.”
The cook snorted and responded pointedly, “Nanc kicked her out.”
“Yeah, yeah,” she turned, “just start up the grill. I have feeling it will be a big order.”
“She doesn't even have shoes on!” He grumbled, “do you have a softer heart than I thought or is this some sort of side-effect of you quitting? I told ya, it’ll do stuff to your head.”
She used her hip to open the kitchen door, “let’s both quit. I’ll start with smoking, and you start with bitching.”
“I swear Li…” He continued grumbling and Lionel walked back over to her table, the girl was stacking sugar pockets on top of each other. She had already eaten three it looked like.
“Here you are,” Lionel placed the water down and took her notepad out of her apron. “Now,” she clicked her pen, “what’ll it be today?”
The girl looked up from under her tousled bangs, “I’ll start with the French toast breakfast and a grand slam steak, and then two eggs, and some hash browns. Then add a side of biscuits and gravy and a fruit bowl with yogurt.”
Lionel gave a wry grin, “is that all?”
Mia rose to meet the challenge and shook her head, “No.” She looked up, “I’m thinking a banana crepe too or maybe those honey cakes. What do you recommend?” She asked the last part slowly.
“Huh,” Lionel stuck her bottom lip out, “well, I’ve never had either,” she said honestly, “but my dog’s name is Honey Cakes. So, you know.”
“Really?” Her eyebrows lifted, “Honey Cakes. What kind of dog is she?” Mia examined her and Lionel shifted in place uncertainly.
“Border collie mix,” she gave a faint smile, “a pain in my ass, but I wouldn’t trade her for the world. Best damn dog this side of the Appalachians.” She looked back to Mia, “do you… like dogs?”
Mia looked off up at the ceiling and high fluorescent lights, “not really.” She said evenly, “but Honey Cakes is a very good name. I’ll have those.”
Lionel clicked her pen again, “I’ll get them right out for you.” She felt like she had something more to say, but it didn’t come to her. She retreated into the kitchen.
She handed the order over to the cook, “here.”
He looked down at it with a scowl, “oh. Is that all? Three entrees and three sides.”
She shrugged, “she implied she might be the devil.”
He turned over to the give her a firm look, “then don’t associate with that type, Jesus girl!”
Lionel looked away, “I’ll associate with who I like. She tips well.”
That was the end of that conversation, just as Mike went back to complaining and a new trucker walked in the front door. Lionel finished the hour.
Mia maintained her tradition, she ate quickly, paid, and slipped out the door without another word. There was a second doodle on the receipt this time, it was simple, a freckled girl holding the leash of dog dripping with something labeled "honey."
“You” it said, “possibly committing identity theft,” and then “Honey Cakes, very likely a good girl.”
Lionel had no other choice but to wander about what drove people to show up at strange hours, call themselves the devil, and draw cute dogs on papers. She guessed it was probably just how the world was and that she shouldn’t linger on it.
She did end up lingering on it though. It danced in between her thoughts of “one last cigarette” and true crime podcasts about break-ins, she wandered about it for a long time.
≿————- ❈ ————-≾
Heat like hot syrup dripped down Mia’s skin, the sun was barely risen but the oppressive warmth of West Virginia summer was already layering the land with a fanged vengeance. Her reborn body was simmering with its own heat, but Mia’s mind was elsewhere. Something was wrong with her arm.
Sticky fluid ran down her right wrist and she couldn’t help but swallow waves of nausea cutting through her gut as she walked. Mia couldn’t feel the cut yet, not enough of her body was back, but she could tell it wasn’t going to be pleasant.
The trail of hot blood dripped in between her fingertips, the wound wasn’t deep, but it was long- curving elegantly from the soft of her inner elbow to her shoulder. At first, she worried she had been found, that it had been an Arcadian hunters trap, or worse, a pack. She had been so careful, moved around just enough, kept to herself just enough, didn’t linger anywhere.
Mia’s heart thudded painfully in her chest as her mind flew to images of being scented or tracked, gutted or recruited.
Luckily, she retraced the wolf’s steps and found a broken tree branch with some blood and a bit of clothing stuck to it, she exhaled in relief when it all smelled like her own. The dumb dog part of her seemed to have run into a tree; Mia opted to ignore the cut for now.
She turned toward the familiar highway.
Why does the wolf drag me all the way back to this road? All the way back to the neon sign in the dark? She didn’t have an answer for that.
Mia wandered thoughtlessly back toward the 24-hour diner in the middle of nowhere, she was almost relieved to see the same waitress on duty that night. Does she ever take the day off?
She entered the establishment quietly, feet padding soft on the cold tiles and shoulders hunched as she approached sheepishly from behind. Hannah/Xena/mystery-waitress was attending two other customers.
Mia found herself sprouting a tiny smile to the other woman’s back, “booth for one.”
The waitress was filling up a coffee cup, two older men in jean jackets and frowns sat at the counter, pointedly ignoring Mia. Xena/Hannah turned slowly.
“Oh my God,” the waitresses mouth fell open, her expression blanking quickly. “You’re bleeding.”
Mia hadn’t felt it yet, but she looked down anyway, blood spread down her entire forearm the way tree roots seep into dirt. It was much more than she remembered. “Oops.” She said lamely, realizing that she was surely pushing her luck with this latest antic. “Uh,” she scratched the back of her neck with her good hand.
The waitress put her coffee pot down, “are you-”
Mia cut her off before she could finish the thought, “let me just go tidy this up.” She put her finger up, “One sec. Promise not to bleed on your nice floors, just,” She hesitated, “save me a booth.” It somehow made her stomach sink to think of being formally kicked out of this place, though she was no stranger to such things.
“That’s gotta hurt,” the waitress frowned, “don’t tell me there was another accident on your construction site.”
Mia took a step backward and didn’t meet her eye, “one second. Right.”
She tried to slip out the door, but to her dismay someone else was just behind her, the odds were against her that morning in more than one way. She slid into the corner as the door dinged open and a couple walked through, looking exhausted and irritated.
“I told you to take 167.” The woman swore at the man.
“Look Julie, I need coffee and then we can discuss your mother’s original directions.”
“I told you not to listen to my mother!”
The waitress gave Mia one last forlorn look and then seated the young couple, Mia slipped out the door and into the dark of the parking lot. She hurried over to the side, past two large trucks and one minivan. Mia planted herself on the hard concrete, neon sign to her back and body hunched over, she tried to tear off a section of her already ragged shirt.
Mia heard not all wolves went completely wild during the moon, that they didn’t roll in dirt, run into trees, and do God knows what every time. She heard they had packs though, and den mothers that kept them all in line.
Mia had no interest in staying in line, however much she resented waking up starving with leaves in her hair.
She inhaled sharply through her teeth when she moved her right arm and a stab of pain shot right up into her shoulder. Her body was becoming fully hers again, she whimpered, “come on,” she tried to move so she could bandage herself, “just this one thing.”
She fiddled with her strip of shirt, trying to stop-up the wound while cursing at herself for several long minutes. She tensed every muscle in her body when she heard footsteps approach from behind, Mia sat up perfectly straight and tried not to panic.
“Hey there,” a voice called, “you might try not getting gangrene out here.”
Mia looked over her shoulder, the waitress was holding out a wet rag and what appeared to be Neosporin. Mia looked blankly back at her.
The waitress joined her at the edge of the parking lot, “I won’t pry.” She said simply, “but you’re gonna want to actually clean that up.”
Mia just kept looking, her mouth pinched shut. “It’s not what you think.” She said lowly, and then turned her face away.
“You don’t know what I think,” the waitress sounded wary, “mostly I think credit card insurance is a scam, NSYNC was the best band of the last two decades, full stop, and spam gets a worse rep than it deserves.”
Mia couldn’t help but grow a small laugh, “is that all?”
The waitress knelt to the ground, crouching in her fitted jeans and looking off into the dry yellow fields. “No, I’ve got more.”
Mia shifted in place, “spam is disgusting.”
The waitress snorted, “have you had it in rice with eggs and cheese? No, and I don’t accept unsourced opinions.”
Mia’s shoulders untensed, she watched her closely, the light of the newborn sun and ancient sign bathed her freckles in a mix of oranges and yellows. The shadows were long and shifting around them and she seemed like the strangest thing of the night.
“Well alright,” Mia reached out, “you sound like you cite your sources, I’ll take your magic germ-killer.” She shifted toward her, “though I don’t usually trust witchcraft or such.”
The waitress handed over the rag first, carefully passing it to Mia’s good hand. “You’re the one that called herself Lucifer.”
Mia shook her head, “Mia is fine too.” She said firmly, “and I was only trying to keep up with...?” Mia leaned over and squinted into the light, “Carol today?”
The waitress gave a small smile, “Carol today.”
Mia leaned her head back, exposing her neck to the warm air. “Can I choose your next one?”
Mia chuckled and lifted the warm rag to her cut, trying to wipe out the grime and clear away the trail of thick dried blood. She flinched and gritted her teeth when she got to her upper forearm, a burn eating its way into her muscle, she wrinkled her nose and exhaled slowly.
“Oh, give it here,” the waitress snapped, “I only have a fifteen minute break and I’m not being accused of stealing company property if I leave this out here with you.”
Mia scowled, “I would give it back.”
The waitress, Carol today, took the rag and scooted over to start dabbing and clearing it out, she mumbled to herself as she did. “Really.” Mia curled into herself slightly but let her work, the feel of the warm water and soft touch making her squirm slightly. The waitress paused, “this will sting.”
That was all the warning the waitress gave before Mia was yelping, a fresh sting bursting over her whole arm as she slathered disinfectant on the area. Mia shifted in place, looking up at the sky and only twitching a little, the waitress had a big grin on her face.
“And here I thought you’d be all brooding and tough.” She whispered to herself.
Mia stuck her bottom lip out, “I’m not immune to Neosporin, thanks.”
The waitress laughed and then got something out of her back pocket, “where are you from again?”
“North.” Mia said shortly, “north-north.”
“First time in the states then?”
She hummed, “not at all.”
The waitress lifted three band aids in the air, “we’re out of big ones.” She explained, “think about home or something while I put them on.”
“I’m not that hurt,” Mia and looked away, “and,” she paused, and something subdued, soft, entered her tone, “thank you for this.” She swallowed thickly, “I didn’t even know I tipped this well.”
She snorted gently, “don’t mention it. Now… Hold still.” She delicately applied the three band aids, plastering them up the long cut that ran from her elbow to her shoulder. Mia flinched but held herself still as the waitress worked, it was a quick process done by nimble hands.
“Watch that now.” The waitress said with a gentle pat to the band aids. “You’ll want to change them later.”
Mia met her gaze briefly- the waitress’s eyes were large, glimmering, hazel. “I will.”
They sat in silence for a long moment after she finished, looking off into the grasses now glowing golden in the light and waiting for something. The waitress scratched her chin, Mia watched her closely. She spoke in a hush, it felt like the moment for such things, “did you need to go in?”
She inhaled, long and noisy. “No.” She looked down at her feet, “give me a moment.” They waited once more, hovering over something. The waitress blinked, “I wanna smoke.”
Mia wrinkled her nose, “okay?”
She glanced over to her, “I’m trying to quit.” She reached into her pocket and seemed to dig up a slim, nearly broken cigarette. “Do you mind? Last one.”
Mia reached out hesitantly, “you just said you’re trying to quit.”
“I want to quit,” she looked down at the end of the white stick. “Yeah. I really do.”
She brought the cigarette to her lips and looked visibly upset, Mia plucked it back out of her mouth. “Then do it.”
Mia took the cigarette from the waitress and put it into her tattered pocket, the waitress exhaled and nodded, they both stood up together to go back into the restaurant.
≿————- ❈ ————-≾
Lionel found an extra forty dollars added to her tip that day, her pride smarted from the display, but her wallet was more than hungry enough for it. There was another picture drawn on the receipt this time.
Thanks for the save :)
Buy yourself some new disinfectant or spam I guess. I’ll see you around, warrior princess Carol-Hannah.
Lionel shouldn’t, but she did. She stuffed the receipt into her apron until she could take pictures of it on her phone and hide that away too.
≿————- ❈ ————-≾
Mia brought flowers. It was stupid, she knew it was stupid, but flowers were how you thanked people, right? Whenever her mom got mad her dad always brought flowers, got down on one knee and said "thanks for being the honey to my milk" or something just as foolish.
Mia was not going to say that. She was however going to thank the waitress very politely, hand over some flowers, and do it all much more presentably than usual. She’d be ready this time.
She had resigned herself to the fact that the wolf wanted to end up around this highway, dropping Mia off in the middle of the woods somehow always close to the diner. She didn’t question the animal. She was long past that.
Mia set up a box, placed where she could find it with extra clothes, baby wipes, and a pair of good shoes. She made sure she was prepared this time.
It was hid in a part of the woods where wildflower’s grew in bundles, vicious in their pursuit of the sun and unhindered by any walls or roads. Mia looked at them for a long moment, transfixed by their scraggly long stems and purple blossoms. She had grown up in the city and things like them almost made her glad she left.
She gathered up the purple flowers one by one, feeling the grainy stems and watching the sun rise over their silky delicate heads. Fastened together they were unkempt and crooked, but Mia had an odd feeling the waitress might even like that.
After gathering more than a dozen she headed toward the empty dry field and the glow of a silent building. Mia had taken her time gathering the plants and actual cars were driving up the road by then, either having just pulled off the highway or found themselves terribly lost.
Mia didn’t pay them much mind, she couldn’t feel the brittle grass against the soles of her feet for once and she was on high on her own purpose. That purpose certainly involved toast and hash browns first, but something a little more as well.
She strode into the diner, spine upright and chest puffed out, planning the first words she would say to the waitress. She hoped the first words back would be "you clean up nice," but there were only so many moments in life that could be like the movies.
Mia deflated like a popped balloon when a different woman turned around as the door dinged, a different woman with bright blue eye shadow and rose-bud lips. A different woman who wore the apron.
“Oh,” Mia’s flowers fell to her side and her smile fell with it.
The new waitress, Tilda the tag said, didn’t even bat an eye, Mia was wearing shoes this time- she wasn’t the strangest person in the joint anymore.
“Table for one?” Tilda asked as she reached for the menus.
Mia could only look around, somehow hopeful in a small way. “No,” she found herself saying, and then her stomach grumbled. “Yes.”
“Alright, this way,” the waitress seemed nonplussed, “gonna be a hot one today.”
“Yeah,” Mia could feel her chest concaving, this wasn’t how the scene went in her head. “It’s going to be terrible.”
“I hear ya’,” Tilda sat her down and placed the menu gingerly in front of Mia, “my name is Tilda, I’ll be server today. What can I get you started with?”
Mia looked down at her flowers, and then back to the woman. “Um.”
Tilda glanced at the present now too, “or are you waiting for someone?”
Mia just shook her head, “I had… a question.” She said stiltedly, her tongue running away with her.
Tilda raised one very fine eyebrow up into the air, “shoot.”
Mia took a deep breath, “I had a waitress here a month ago, and uh, sometime before that. She went by Xena or Hannah or Carol…” Mia realized she really didn’t have a chance. She didn’t even have her real name. “She’s freckly?”
Tilda just nodded shortly, “Name changer? I know her, she’s worked here forever. She’s out today though.”
“Oh,” Mia lifted her chin, “Is she… alright?” Mia wasn’t sure if she was crossing a line or not, “a friend told me to give her these.” She indicated the flowers.
Both of Tilda’s eyebrows rose like questions marks now, perfectly in tune with each other. “I wouldn’t worry.” Tilda played with her pen, flipping it back and forth in her fingers, “she’s a piece of hardwood that one. Heard she was a bit of a mess on the phone, but she’ll be back soon.” Tilda’s eyes darted to the flowers, “though maybe Li will like those, she’s out in Nolan I think.”
Mia sat with that for a long moment, words echoing in her head, was a bit of the mess on the phone.
Mia was reminded she didn’t know anything about this girl, mostly that the woman had bad opinions on things and helped strangers out on their worst nights.
“Should I leave you with the menu?”
Mia shook herself out of her thoughts, “No, I’ll start with a bowl of oatmeal, hash browns, and a plate of pancakes with…”
The flowers wilted next to her.
≿————- ❈ ————-≾